Are the Unborn a Convenient Group to Advocate For?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 10/12/2021

Debate over abortion laws is heating up. Consequently, I’ve been asked by friends and acquaintances to address numerous claims made about the subject. Another recently-circulating challenge to the pro-life view left a friend of mine wondering how to respond. Here it is:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.  — Pastor Dave Barnhart

I don’t know anything about this pastor, but that is irrelevant. There are multiple problems with this challenge, but I will only address three of them here.

First, the challenge makes all kinds of ungracious assumptions. For example, it claims that pro-life Christians choose to care for the unborn so we can “claim to love Jesus,” but we “actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans?” That’s an incredibly uncharitable take on pro-lifers and wrongly assumes their focus on the killing of innocent human beings is misguided. How can he know who people like or dislike? In my near-twenty years of traveling the country and working with pro-life ministries, I’ve never come across pro-life people who dislike orphans, widows, etc. In fact, I experience the opposite. Pro-life people typically have a robust understanding that God made all human beings valuable and that we’re to care for those who are vulnerable. I see their compassion for the unborn pour over into compassion for others who are marginalized.

Second, the challenge wrongly accuses pro-life Christians of throwing prisoners, immigrants, widows, etc. “under the bus for the unborn.” Even if it were true that pro-life groups didn’t spend their resources caring for prisoners, so what? Why is that a problem? Not every Christian is called to do everything for everyone. Ministries typically focus on specific areas of need, but they shouldn’t be faulted for failing to address every need of every person.

I know ministries that help women and children who are trafficked. They don’t do anything about abortion, though, and they seem deaf to the pleas of prisoners. That’s not wrong. It’s just not their focus. I know men who serve in prison ministry but do nothing to serve those who are sick. We shouldn’t fault them either. They’re doing what they can in their sphere of influence. If pro-life groups only care for the unborn and their mothers, they should not be faulted for doing so. That’s a valid ministry regardless of whether they don’t or can’t help others.

Third, the challenge’s overall claim is arguably false. He claims the unborn are convenient to advocate for because they never make demands of us, but that prisoners, immigrants, and the sick challenge our wealth, power, and privilege, making it inconvenient for people to care for them. It seems like serving anyone can be inconvenient, though. Putting others’ interests and desires above your own is precisely why it’s called “serving.” You make sacrifices of time, money, energy, and many other things in order to care for those in need. The set of inconveniences will be unique depending on whom you serve.

For example, this pastor claims it’s convenient to advocate for the unborn. In reality, however, it’s convenient to ignore the unborn. Why? The unborn are silent. They can’t pester you. You can’t hear their screams when they’re torn apart. It’s easy to ignore them since you almost never see them. If you looked away from their plight, you’d never be troubled by them.

To advocate for the unborn is complex and difficult. These children are residing inside their mothers, who have total control over their destiny. Convincing women to make decisions about what they believe to be their own bodies is hardly easy. The media, law, courts, schools, and Hollywood are largely supportive of a woman’s right to kill her unborn child. Pro-lifers are routinely mocked, harassed, and deplatformed. It’s inconvenient. This isn’t a complaint. It’s simply a correction to the original challenge. Though advocating for the life of the unborn may not present with the same kinds of inconveniences as caring for prisoners, widows, and orphans, it’s still not convenient and no less legitimate of a ministry.